Certain days of the year are made for eating candy (hello, Halloween and Valentine's Day). While occasionally treating yourself to sugar-glazed goodies is totally fine, it can come at a cost to your teeth — especially if you overdo it.
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Whether it's a holiday or any day of the year a candy craving strikes, try these dentist-approved tricks for enjoying your treats without damaging your dental health.
After eating candy, always brush your teeth (for 2 minutes) and floss to remove plaque and food particles.
1. Choose Your Candy Carefully
Some candies can harm your teeth more than others. In fact, the day after Halloween is the busiest day of the year in dental offices because so many people break their teeth or fillings after eating certain kinds of candy, says dentist Rhonda Kalasho, CEO of TruGlo Modern Dental.
To avoid an unnecessary trip to the dentist, steer clear of these common candy culprits:
Chewy candies are problematic for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, these sweets are super sticky and can possibly dislodge dental work such as crowns or fillings, says Marina Gonchar, DMD, a board-certified orthodontist at Skin to Smile.
The same goes for veneers (i.e., custom-made covers that fit over the front surfaces of your teeth). If you have veneers, be very careful not to tug tacky candies like caramels, toffees or taffies with your front teeth, Dr. Kalasho says.
Similarly, "if you are currently undergoing orthodontic treatment, chewy candy can pull out your wires and break your orthodontic appliances, extending your treatment time," Dr. Gonchar adds.
And that's not all. Because chewy candy sticks to your teeth, the sugar stays in your mouth longer, increasing your chances for developing cavities, she says.
Like chewy candies, hard candy varieties can also reap havoc on your teeth. "Hard candies should not be chewed if you have any delicate dentistry in your mouth," Dr. Kalasho says.
Dr. Gonchar agrees: "Hard candy can chip your teeth, crowns, veneers, and possibly even crack your tooth if it's hard enough."
Even if you don't have a habit of chomping down on hard candy, letting it dissolve slowly can also produce problems for your pearly whites (think: sugar hangs around your mouth while the candy melts, which can create more opportunities for cavity formation).
"Sour candies have the greatest potential for cavity formation and enamel wear," Dr. Gonchar says. That's because sour candy contains a corrosive combo of acid (the ingredient that makes it sour) and sugar, which is "the worst combination for the oral environment," she explains.
Safer Candy for Your Teeth
Instead of chewy, hard and sour candies, snack on these safer and healthier candies:
Dark chocolate: “Dark chocolate is by far the best [type of candy for your teeth] because it has the least amount of sugar, is easily digested, has antioxidant properties, does not stick to your teeth and is not hard enough to cause damage to teeth or other dental work,” Dr. Gonchar says.
Candies made with sugar-free alternatives like xylitol: Major brands like Hershey’s make zero-sugar candies (like Reese’s and Jolly Ranchers) that taste the same as the sugary kind, Dr. Kalasho says.
2. Drink More Water
Sipping on H2O can help hinder some of the possible negative effects that candy can cause on your teeth.
Not only does water help wash away sugars, but it's also "great at alkalizing the acidity in the mouth that occurs after having a candy," Dr. Kalasho says.
Once you eat something sugary like candy, plaque bacteria feed on the sugar and release acidic waste products that erode your enamel (i.e., the hard surface of your teeth). So by swishing with some water, you can neutralize the acidic environment in the oral cavity, which may help prevent cavity formation, Dr. Gonchar explains.
3. Time Your Treats
When you snack on sweets might make a difference to your dental health. For example, enjoying candy with a meal — or shortly thereafter — might be ideal for your ivories.
That's because "your salivary production increases significantly during a meal to help you digest the incoming food," Dr. Gonchar says. Because saliva can wash away sugars and help neutralize acids, it can potentially combat cavity formation, she says.
Not in the mood to munch on your goodies after a meal? "You can have a sweet any time of the day, just stay hydrated and make sure you brush and floss well" to dislodge debris and keep bad bacteria at bay, Dr. Kalasho says.
4. Don't Snack Throughout the Day
Keeping your candy-eating contained to a single sweets session is a solid strategy for decreasing possible damage to your teeth.
"Do not snack throughout the day," Dr, Kalasho says. "That is the worst for the teeth."
Here's why: After you eat food, "the pH levels in your mouth drop significantly to start the process of digestion," Dr. Gonchar says. That means your oral environment becomes more acidic.
But remember: when acid rises in your mouth, it can erode tooth enamel and become a catalyst for cavity formation. And this is especially problematic after you snack on sweets.
Complicating matters, it takes about 20 minutes for the pH in your oral cavity to become neutral after eating, Dr. Gonchar says. So if you're gobbling down gobstoppers throughout the day, your mouth will remain in a state of acidity for long periods.
This is why enjoying candy in one sitting is a better bet — this way, you reduce the number of acid spikes that can sabotage your teeth.
Still, that doesn't mean you should eat an entire bag of candy all at once, Dr. Kalasho says. Stick to enjoying a few pieces at a time. Dr. Gonchar agrees: "Anything in moderation is OK and will not ruin your teeth."